Details of cuts to health services leave staff reeling
HEALTH service staff have been left reeling at plans for swingeing cuts to care - including closing hospital wards, halting fertility treatment, freezing nursing home admissions and ending meals on wheels.
The five health and social care trusts yesterday revealed details of measures they are proposing to meet £70 million in savings demanded by Department of Health.
The largest amount - £26.3m - must be found by the Belfast trust and it produced a sobering list of services it proposes to slash.
* Cuts to agency and locum staff, leading to the loss of 65 hospital beds and adding an extra six months on waiting lists
* Fewer non-urgent elective treatments - affecting 2,000 cases
* Reduction of new `home help' packages from October - affecting 365 people and more people staying in hospital
* A 'temporary halt' to admissions to nursing and residential homes. affecting 230 people
* No new fertility cycles between October and March
* More generic drug treatments replacing high-cost medication
However, the trust vowed that cancer treatment would be protected.
The Northern trust has has to find £13m in savings. It proposes:
* Using fewer high-cost medical locum and agency nursing staff
* Closing two wards in Whiteabbey Hospital and day ward
* Closing beds in Antrim and Causeway hospitals
* Reducing non-urgent elective day surgery
* Cutting community-based rehabilitation beds
* Limiting new `domiciliary care' packages
* Ending meals on wheels
* Cutting down on use of private ambulances
* Increasing parking charges
The Southern trust was accused by SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly of failing to "put meat on the bones" of its proposals for £6.4m in cuts.
The trust gave little detail, only saying its "priority has been to protect direct patient care and to reduce spending in support areas where possible".
To this end, it promised there would be "no direct impact on current staff, but the trust will maintain current vacancy management processes" and would not bring in "planned service developments" before April 2018.
Personal care aids and appliances to support patients in their homes will also "change to a home delivery service".
The Western trust is hoping to find its £12.5m of savings by reducing use of "external service providers and consumables", which it admits will "increase (the) impact of equipment failures" and "increased health and safety risks due to delay in repairs".
It is also going to limit recruitment in administration, corporate and support services, affecting "cleaning, medical records, clinical coding and... on-call services" - existing staff will be required to fill the gaps.
The trust will also increase the hourly rate for car parking at three hospital sites and try to bring in more "nursing home income".
Again, vacancies will not be filled in the short term.
The South Eastern trust said it has identified "81 per cent of the total £10.8m plan, which will have less or no impact on the delivery of services", but "the remaining £2.05m are deemed to have a major impact, or are likely to be controversial".
These include a £1m reduction in locum doctor use and a £1.05m reduction in non-nursing agency staff.
Other proposals include:
• Slowing or deferring spending on service development and new initiatives, including slowing transfer of services to a new inpatient block at Ulster Hospital
• Administration savings on staff travel
• Car parking charges at Ards Hospital
• Recruitment delays
Yesterday's meetings were attended by staff members and their trade union representatives.
Kevin McAdam of Unite it is "a bad time to be sick in Northern Ireland".
He said the union would be "strongly opposing these cuts that will be so devastating to our older persons and the infirm" during a six-week public consultation.
Kevin McCabe, assistant secretary of Nipsa, branded the consultations a "sham" at a time of political impasse.
Carolyn Ewart of NIASW (Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers) warned that members are already "operating under increasingly constrained budgets and with ever more complex caseloads".
John Woods of the British Medical Association (BMA) said that although the proposals "are aimed at hospital care, if implemented there will be a subsequent impact on GPs who are already overwhelmed".
The Department of Health said the "financial challenge remains significant due to inflation, an increasing and ageing population and the cost of new treatments and patient expectations".
"The health and social care service cannot spend money it does not have and savings must be applied to this year's budget in order to achieve financial balance in 2017/2018."